It can be hard to choose the perfect ground cover for your garden. There are so many options, like grasses and perennials, but not all will work well in every situation. Heather plants are a great option for those who want an attractive flower that acts as a natural weed suppressant.
This is because heather plants have deep roots that help keep weeds from growing around their base. They also make a great butterfly garden and attract other plant pollinators to your garden. If you're looking for a ground cover that can keep your garden lush and green all year round, consider heather plants.
Here’s how to grow and care for heather shrubs.
Understanding Heaths and Heathers
As calluna Vulgaris, Heather plants are evergreen perennials found in woodlands and open fields, most often in sandy climates with low drainage and acidic soils. On the other hand, heaths or Erica describe an unrelated group of flowering plants.
Although heaths and heathers belong to the same family called, they're botanically different and are divided into the Calluna genus and Erica genus. But for practical purposes, they are both referred to as heaths or heathers. Heaths bloom from May to September and come in pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.
Heather blooms from August to November and comes in dark pink, purple, and white shades. Both heaths and heathers have fine foliage that forms a dense carpet. The tiny leaves are evergreen with needle-like shapes that grow in four rows along twisted stems.
Heathers and Landscaping
While the blooms of heather plants are the main attraction for gardeners and pollinators alike, their foliage should be your main focus. For example, you can choose to grow a variety called Calluna Vulgaris Firefly because it changes foliage color from copper in the summer to deep red in the winter.
When other ornamental plants are either dormant or looking weary in the winter, your heathers will radiate different shades of bright and lively colors. This makes them ideal for pathways and open areas in your garden. It's also recommended to pair them with dwarf conifers.
Heather Plant Varieties
You have plenty of choices when it comes to heather varieties to grow. Even though heaths and heathers are often mistaken for each other, heaths are usually smaller and less colorful than heathers. Here are the heather plant varieties:
Also known as winter is fluffy foliage that changes color from winter to summer. Some varieties bloom in the summer, while others have their flowers open up in the winter. By growing different blooming varieties, you can have bright colors all year round.
A popular choice for colder climates, this heather plant variety can thrive in USDA zone 4 or 5. They are known to be low maintenance, but they are recommended to grow with acidic soil. They have green foliage, but they bloom in white, lavender, and purple.
They can tolerate partial shade, although they favor full sun. Their flowers bloom from mid-spring through fall. They're also called bell heath, thanks to their bell shape.
This is the most popular of all heather types. You might also be interested in the most popular types of larkspur.. You might also be interested in the most popular types of larkspur.. These heather shrubs have different shapes, sizes, and colors. They're the recommended type to grow in your garden, thanks to their high tolerance to cold. They can also thrive in rocky or poor soil, making them perfect rock garden plants. Most varieties bloom in the summer and early fall.
How to Grow Heather Plants
Plant heaths and heathers in open areas, up hillsides, or along pathways. They pair well with dwarf conifers which require similar acidic soil conditions. They tolerate poor, rocky soil and even salty spray, making them marvelous along coastal hillsides where little else will grow.
Avoid planting in dry sites, under trees, or in areas exposed to harsh winter winds because they'll suffer dehydration as evergreens. Heathers don’t become drought tolerant immediately, so they may not be the best choice if your garden is very dry. Heaths grow about one foot tall by 11/2 feet wide while heathers about 2 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide.
Space them as far apart as their mature width and at least 2 feet away from other shrubs to foster good air circulation. Most heather plant cultivars have USDA hardiness zones between 4 and 6, making them ideal for cold to moderate climates. Some heather shrubs can also grow in hardiness zones between 3 and 10, allowing them to grow in diverse climates and weather conditions.
No matter the type of soil you have, make sure you till it before planting heathers. Consider a sunny spot and dig a hole in the soil twice as deep and wide as the plant's root ball you got from the nursery.
Your foliage should be as close to the ground as possible and water the soil to help the plant rest and avoid soaking. This is because the roots of heathers are sensitive to waterlogged soil. Choose acidic mulch to cover the soil as heathers prefer slightly acidic soil.
Caring for Heather Plants
Heather plants do well in a variety of soils but prefer acidic soil. Till the soil before planting heathers to ensure good drainage. If your soil is not acidic, mix in some organic matter to make it so. They're also tolerant to very poor, rocky soil, but acidity is important.
If you have neutral or alkaline soil, consider acidic soil amendments such as damp peat moss. Avoid using sedge peat or spent mushroom compost as these can be too alkaline. Yellow leaves are a sign that soil pH lacks enough acidity for the plants. So, consider testing the soil pH for growing this shrub.
If you have heavy clay soil, you can double-dig the ground and incorporate lots of peat moss or ericaceous compost mixed with one-third of sand or grit to improve drainage. You can also plant your heather shrub on a raised bed using an equal mix of compost, composted bark, or peat moss and sand. This will not only create acidic soil but will also create well-drained soil.
Consider Sun Exposure
Heather plants need full sun to partial shade. In hot climates, it provides afternoon shade. A heather garden should be planted in a position where it will be unshaded for all or most of the day. If possible, site your heather plants, so the main view is from the south as foliage heathers always color well on the southern side.
Plant your heathers where they'll get at least six or more hours of sunlight each day for the foliage effect, with afternoon shade on hotter days. Too much shade makes the plants leggy and dulls the brilliance of those that have colorful foliage.
Watering Heather Plants
Water heathers regularly, keeping the soil moist but not wet. Heather plants do not like to have their roots sitting in water, so make sure that the soil drains well. Mulching heather plants will help retain moisture in the soil. Their drought tolerant is normally established within two to three years from planting.
After that, your heather shrubs will take care of themselves. So, make sure you water your heather shrub during this time to keep the soil evenly moist and not soggy.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements
The ideal temperature range for heather plants is between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can grow these lovely evergreen shrubs throughout the country as long as you take care of them properly, but some zones are better than others.
Heathers require very little fertilizer. You can apply for a slow-release, granular form of balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring and summer months at the rate recommended on the package.
However, unless you grow heather for its flowers, never fertilize during the winter months. Doing so will encourage tender new growth, which will be damaged or killed when the inevitable cold of winter arrives.
After the blooms fade and the snows blow in, Heathers can look a bit ragged and scraggly. To remedy this, cut back any remaining flower stalks to just above where they emerge from the shrub's foliage. Pruning heather is a snap with most models of hand pruners.
The best time for heather pruning is in early spring, shortly before the plants go dormant for winter. In areas prone to harsh winters, it's especially important to prune heathers at this time because any tender new growth that emerges in the spring will be killed off by the cold.
Common Problems for Heather
Heather isn't susceptible to many problems, but the available ones are easily avoidable. These include:
The single most common problem that heather faces are powdery mildew. If you're growing your shrub in an area with hot, dry summers, this could be the problem you're facing when keeping your plant healthy.
To prevent powdery mildew from appearing on your heather, make sure you prune faithfully every spring to keep plants compact, thereby improving airflow. Also, avoid overhead overwintering.
Rot typically sets in during very wet winters or springs. The telltale sign of root rot is plants that suddenly wilt, despite being well watered. If you think your heather might have root rot, dig around the base of the plant and take a look at the roots. If they're brown and mushy, then your plant has root rot.
To prevent rot, make sure your heather is in sunny, well-drained soil and water sparingly when it's going through a dry spell or very cold periods. If you suspect root rot, re-pot your plant into a fresh potting mix before bringing the shrub indoors during winter.
FAQs on How to Grow and Care for Heather Shrubs
What are the practical uses of heather shrubs?
Heather is an excellent plant for the landscape or garden. It can be used as a ground cover, border plant, or specimen. It can be made into tea and herbal remedies. It has been thought to help with cough and stomach upset ailments.
Final Thought on How to Grow and Care for Heather Shrubs
As you can see, growing and caring for these plants is not too difficult. They require little care and maintenance, and their bright colors and fragrant blooms make them a pleasant addition to any garden or landscape.